Understanding the FASFA- Why? How? When?
College Applications, Essays, Scholarships, ACT and SAT Prep, Financial Aid -- oh my! The life of a high-school senior, on top of their academics and extracurricular obligations, can be overwhelming, tiring, and just down right stressful! We understand – we get it! We have found that the number one factor that holds a student back from attending the college of their dreams is the price tag associated with it. College is expensive! Tuition, room and board, and the fees associated with them can be difficult for families but fortunately enough, the government has listened and have made some changes to the financial aid process this year that are intended to give more time for students and families to plan for that big price tag ahead.
Each year, students attending college are asked and encouraged to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. By filling out the FAFSA, students not only become eligible for scholarships and financial aid at the University level, but they also become eligible for federal funds such as Pell Grants. The FAFSA is also the application for work study funds, federal student loans, and even scholarships and grants that are offered by the state, schools, and other local organizations. Below are some common statements about the FAFSA that we often hear from families:
- “I’m not going fill one out; my parents make too much money and I won’t qualify for anything!” – We highly recommend that all of our Rocket families fill out the FAFSA. Even if you feel you make too much money, many colleges require that they have a FAFSA on file before they offer any of their University scholarships. You may also find that you have to take out a small loan to offset some costs and without a FAFSA on file, you will not be able to accept any federal loan offers.
- “I’ll do it later once I figure out where I am going to school.” – Just as we stress with college applications, the earlier that you complete the FAFSA, the better. Some of the funds that you could be eligible for after completing the FAFSA are on a first come, first serve basis. Once these funds run out, they will not have any more to give. Don’t meet the deadlines, BEAT the deadlines!
- “I will just fill out the FAFSA and apply for schools later.” – Students will not receive financial aid packages from colleges until they have applied and been accepted to the school. You are able to list up to 10 colleges on the FAFSA that you would like the results sent to. Just by adding those 10 schools does not mean you are in the clear. You must have received your acceptance letter before they will even look at your financial aid options. If students become interested in a school after they have completed the FAFSA, they are easily able to login to their FAFSA account and add that particular school.
- “My parents haven’t done their taxes yet.” – With the new change to the financial aid timeline, families now will submit their taxes from an earlier year. For the 2017/2018 school year, which is what our senior families will apply for, families will use their 2015 taxes. The FAFSA has an easy Data Retrieval Tool where families can simply login to the IRS and it automatically inputs all of their tax information into the application. It doesn’t get much better than that!
In recent years, the FAFSA opened at midnight on January 1 but this year a significant change has taken place and it will now open October 1 of senior year. While moving up the timeline has been a logistical nightmare for many Universities, I see many advantages for our Rocket families. Moving up the opening date of the FAFSA not only better aligns the financial aid timeline to match the college application season but it also gives families more time to understand and analyze their options. As I stated earlier, the cost of college is expensive but just as we tell our students, the investment is worth it! With the new changes that have taken place, students now have more time to evaluate each of their award letters and do a cost analysis to see what school will be the best financial fit for them. It paints a better picture for families early on so that they still have nearly 9 months to save money and apply for as many scholarships as possible. With all of this being said, there are still some schools that have not changed their financial aid deadlines therefore award letters will not go out until mid-Spring, as it has been in previous years. Nonetheless, it is extremely important that students go ahead and do what they have control over and get their FAFSA completed and submitted. It will only benefit them in the long run!
We never want the price tag of college to hold a student back from attending the school of their dreams. It is not too early to start having conversations and thinking about the many options that are available to students in the forms of grants, scholarships, and financial aid. Know that we believe in your student and we are always here to help in any way that we can!
Peace, Love, and an abundance of Financial Aid,
Mount St. Mary High School, Counselor
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